“If we created iFoster and brought the benefits of community, we could help hundreds of thousands of children and hundreds of thousands of families.”
“Witness protection for kids” is how Reid Cox describes the child welfare system. It protects the privacy and safety of youths, who often have been removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect or violence. But this also makes it harder for their foster families to find the support they need. That’s where iFoster — the online community Cox and his wife, Serita, cofounded — comes in.
Cox, who grew up in a small farming town in Canada, is a former tech industry financial strategist. In 2010, he and Serita, a former management and philanthropic strategy consultant who was a foster child herself, were looking for a way to make a difference. They thought about becoming foster parents but realized they could combine their professional expertise and have a larger impact. They created iFoster, a website that helps those involved in the child welfare system — kids, their foster hosts, agencies and businesses — build a community of support for one another. From providing help with homework and college applications to giving kids laptops and cellphones, iFoster works to fill the gaps in these families’ resources.
“If we created iFoster and brought the benefits of community, we could help hundreds of thousands of children and hundreds of thousands of families,” Cox says.
At any given moment, there are more than 400,000 children being raised in foster care. “What we do for the community is ask them, what do they need? What are the barriers they run across?” Cox says.
Cox, a confident yet humble 52-year-old who lives in the California mountain town of Truckee, drew inspiration from Facebook and from LinkedIn, a former client of his. “There was a lot of power in bringing all those people together,” Cox says. “I realized what foster care needed was an online community of their own.”
IFoster’s 40,000-plus members include kids in the system, caseworkers, and employees of state agencies and the federal government. “What they’ve created is life-changing,” says Lyn Farr, iFoster’s board chairwoman, who is the former chief operating officer of EMQ Families First, a California social services organization.
IFoster’s jobs program is another example of how the organization seeks to make a difference. Within four years of aging out of foster care, 50 percent of these young adults will be unemployed, and 70 percent will be on government assistance. At the same time, many companies are looking for trained workers who will stick with their jobs. IFoster helps both groups by bringing them together. Twenty-three major corporations, including CVS, Starbucks and the Ralph’s grocery store chain, participate in iFoster’s jobs program. More than 300 young people have been hired; after six months, they had a 90 percent job-retention rate.
Another one of iFoster’s initiatives, 1 Laptop, grew out of the recognition that many foster kids lack access to technology of their own. While 90 percent of U.S. teens overall have access to a computer, less than 20 percent of foster children in California have that advantage, for example. In May of last year, iFoster set a goal of providing one laptop to every eligible foster child in California — 10,000 computers. A year later, it has achieved 25 percent of its goal, and momentum continues to build.